March 19, 2012

Student Leaders In Michigan Work For LGBT Equality

This article is written by 2012 GLSEN Student Ambassador Chase S.

The passion and drive of student leaders in my region has inspired me throughout the past several months in my work with GLSEN Southeast MI. Since November 2010, I have been working with our local GLSEN Chapter to develop a comprehensive youth program that addresses advocacy as well as educational and social needs throughout the state.

To locate student leaders, we sent out applications across the entire metro Detroit area. These applications were distributed at the local LGBT community center, local LGBT inclusive organizations/centers, all Southeast MI high schools, and at our GSA Alliance Meetings, where GSA leaders from across Michigan come together for a monthly discussion/event forum.

Since summer 2011, our youth outreach has been rapidly expanding and has already left an impact on Michigan’s school climate for LGBT students in a profound way. That same summer our Chapter had the amazing opportunity to attend Camp GLSEN, which provided extensive training on oppression, LGBT issues, facilitation and implementing youth leadership initiatives. Thanks to this national training we were able to provide a 10-hour student leadership for a team of 17 high-school age leaders broken up into five committees based on their own skills and interests: a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Leadership team, curriculum design team, a presentation team, event planning team and a networking and technology team.

With 17 students, five adult committee advisors and two program coordinators (including myself), it can be difficult to coordinate 24 unique schedules so we opted to use multiple means of communication: a Facebook group, a Google doc, emails, phone calls/texting, Skype meetings and more. These multiple forms of communication have allowed us to reach everyone by their most comfortable means (for example, some students love talking but hate writing and oftentimes don't reply to emails, so we always make a point to follow-up via phone call for important emails and sometimes we use Skype or collaborative Google Docs to have "meetings" when not all group members can be present).

These teams have been collaborating seamlessly and have offered a whirlpool of energy and life experiences. We expect a lot of our student leaders to continue creating change in their communities so it has been our goal to engage youth in service learning as much as possible. This means that students are not just providing their time and energy in a community service setting, but they are also receiving beneficial experience and skills in return. Our students are slowly becoming more confident and outspoken leaders as we push their capabilities in a meaningful way.

Most importantly, we are providing a social and educational venue that allows students to experience personal growth at their own pace. We hope that our project, dubbed the Breaking the Silence Initiative, will not only change our community, but will make a life-long impact on every student who we have had the pleasure to work with on our Jump Start Student Leadership Team this year and for many years to come.

Want to make sure students like Chase are supported? A donation today of any amount helps GLSEN continue our work to make schools safe for students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

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